The Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA) has identified a staggering rate of potential regulatory violations. In a targeted exam initiated in November 2022, FINRA reviewed over 500 retail communications related to crypto assets from member firms. The findings, disclosed in January 2024, reveal that approximately 70% of these communications potentially violated FINRA’s Rule 2210, which governs communications with the public.
Rule 2210 is a cornerstone regulation that ensures fairness and balance in broker-dealer communications. It prohibits false, exaggerated, promissory, unwarranted, or misleading claims, and demands that any communication provide a sound basis for evaluating the facts regarding any product or service discussed. The rule is critical in maintaining market integrity and protecting investors from misleading information.
The violations identified by FINRA primarily involve misleading statements and comparisons about crypto assets. These include false implications that crypto assets function like cash or equivalent instruments, unclear and misleading explanations of crypto assets’ operations, and comparisons of crypto assets with other assets, like stocks or cash, without a sound basis. Notably, some communications falsely suggested that crypto assets were protected by federal securities laws or FINRA rules, or misleadingly stated the extent to which certain crypto assets are protected by the Securities Investor Protection Corporation (SIPC).
This review is part of FINRA’s ongoing efforts to regulate the burgeoning crypto market. It comes in the wake of increased interest in crypto assets and the potential harm caused by problematic communications in this rapidly evolving market. The findings underscore the need for member firms to rigorously adhere to regulatory standards, especially in a market as volatile and complex as cryptocurrencies.
FINRA’s report is more than a mere compilation of compliance issues; it serves as a vital tool for member firms to refine their communication strategies. The high rate of non-compliance in crypto communications highlights the need for heightened vigilance and adherence to regulatory standards. As the crypto industry continues to evolve, FINRA’s oversight and subsequent regulatory actions will play a crucial role in shaping the landscape of cryptocurrency and its integration into the broader financial system.
FINRA’s findings are a stark reminder of the growing pains of the crypto industry and the importance of rigorous oversight. The organization’s role may be further influenced by an upcoming Supreme Court decision regarding the SEC’s use of in-house judges, which could have repercussions for FINRA’s own practices. This decision follows a 2023 ruling by the Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit against FINRA’s use of these judges.
In summary, the report from FINRA serves as a critical reminder of the challenges facing the crypto industry and the importance of maintaining high standards of regulatory compliance. As the crypto market continues to grow and attract investor interest, the role of regulatory bodies like FINRA in ensuring market integrity and investor protection becomes increasingly vital.
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